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Review of A Tale Of Two Cities (First Preview) at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

The James Dacre directed production of Mike Poulton's adaption of Charles DIckens' classic novel is as important to me as any play that I have seen. A bold statement, however on the 1st March, 2014 when I first saw it in the Royal & Derngate, it was the first play I had seen in the building for 21 years (that being The Invisible Man with a certain Sylvester McCoy, which I randomly still have the poster for). I was frankly amazed and absorbed from my aisle seat in row B. Because of this, I returned and returned again and have since seen well over two hundred plays at various venues in the town and have been sucked into theatre in many other ways beyond an audience member.

Having the chance to see it again as it sets off on a very well deserved tour was a wonderful opportunity, and no better way for me to open my 2016/17 season at the Royal & Derngate. Adaptor Mike Poulton has done a very good job in bringing Dickens' bold and epic story to the stage and with the work of director James Dacre, the action over the two and a half hours is kept edgy and surprisingly modern.

What did strike me on my initial encounter and remains a wonderful touch is the build-up to the play as the audience make their way to their seats. Haunting singing projected from beyond the scrim curtain brings us into the world, and once again this is wonderfully performed. A particular highlight this time was the wonderful singing from Noa Bodner, who plays Madame Defarge with rather a lot of menace.

The key role within Tale is really the drunken yet purposeful Sydney Carton who was superbly played in the original production I saw by Oliver Dimsdale, however I feel this time that the role is given just that little more character by the new lead, Joseph Timms. He looks the part even more, in his disheveled state and his drunken breakdowns are particularly powerful.

The cast of the 2016 touring production of A Tale Of Two Cities (Photo: Robert Day)
Reprising their many roles from the original production are Christopher Hunter and Royal Theatre regular Sean Murray. They bring great character once again to all their roles, with Hunter's Judge one of many highlights.

On second viewing, there was one slight fly in the ointment of this being perfect and that is the surprisingly long and stilted opening scene in the court room. It wasn't something that I noticed originally, however it does make it a very sluggish start before we get to the, admittedly, solid goods further into the play. Again, I must finally mention the superb work from composer Rachel Portman. It was striking and stirring when I originally heard it, and two and a half years later, it remains an incredibly strong part of this production.

A Tale Of Two Cities is not the best play that I have seen in the Made In Northampton range since that fateful day of 1st March, 2014. However this is much to do with the constant quality of the work produced through this range, rather than anything being wrong with Tale. It is a neat and compact production of a complicated novel, filled with excellent performances and a mostly swift and pacy direction from James Dacre. It came highly recommended from me at the time and still does, and for myself especially, I look back at it with an immense fondness as something that changed my life completely for the better in every way. It truly brought for me, the very best of times.


Performance reviewed: Saturday 10th September, 2016 at the Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton.

A Tale Of Two Cities runs at the Royal & Derngate until Saturday 17th September, 2016 before touring until November. Details of the tour are here:

For further details visit the Royal & Derngate website at

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